AR-News: (ME - US) article on Shelters importing puppies from other
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Tue Feb 24 16:33:10 EST 2004
Monday, February 23, 2004
Shelters import prospective adoptees
By BETH QUIMBY, Portland Press Herald Writer 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers
A message of responsible dog ownership trumpeted by animal welfare groups has
taken root. So much so that southern Maine's animal shelters are scrambling
for more pups.
Dog owners have been listening to the spay and neuter mantra, effectively
shrinking the number of unwanted dogs, and straining dog pound supplies.
Deborah Clark, director of the Animal Refuge League of Westbrook, says the
shortage is a sign that animal welfare groups are doing their job of spreading
the message that owners should neuter or spay their dogs. "This is exciting and
something to be really proud of," she said.
The shortage is so acute that several animal shelters in southern Maine have
been importing puppies from other parts of the country to satisfy the demand.
It is a phenomenon that is happening across the Northeast, animal welfare
The success of spaying and neutering has not had a completely positive
effect. Importing dogs is causing a rift between veterinarians and animal shelters
in some states and has led to a raging debate among animal welfare groups.
It is a subject some animal welfare advocates are reluctant to talk about.
They say they are worried that if word gets out there are sometimes not enough
dogs to go around at shelters, people will stop supporting their efforts.
"It is very controversial. When you have fixed your problem locally, where do
you look next?" said Becky Brimley, director of animal welfare at the Bangor
Gone are the days when litters of puppies languished in animal shelters. An
unaccompanied dog on the street today draws second looks. Animal welfare
experts attribute the phenomenon to a variety of factors.
Steven Jacobsen, director of the Animal Welfare Society Inc. shelter in
Kennebunk, says there has been a widespread shift in attitudes toward dog ownership
during the past 20 years. Not only are dog owners neutering their pets, they
also are taking better care of their canines in general.
Former city dwellers moving into more rural areas often arrive with strong
expectations about leash law enforcement. Clark says the rabies epidemic of the
1990s and fear of having a pet exposed led to a big increase in leashed dogs.
Jerilee Zezula, a veterinarian and professor of applied animal science at the
University of New Hampshire, says electronic fences, which confine dogs to
their own yards, have contributed to fewer roaming dogs.
Animal advocates say that the strong tradition and long history of the humane
movement in the Northeast has also fueled the trend.
"A lot of the humane societies were formed in the Northeast," Jacobsen said.
The Animal Refuge League in Westbrook was founded in 1911. The Bangor Humane
Society, the largest animal welfare group in the state, is a venerable 135
Jacobsen says that although his shelter is filled in the fall months, in the
late winter there is usually space. He says there are simply fewer dogs being
born. "It has been fairly pronounced in the past few years," he said.
So for the last several years, the Kennebunk shelter, which has contracts to
take in pets from 17 communities, has been importing puppies and dogs from out
of state. The shelter is expecting a shipment of puppies from Tennessee at
the end of the month.
The puppies along with some adult dogs, will be taken north in a rental van
by volunteers. The animals will be quarantined before being put up for
adoption. The shelter has also taken in puppies from rural Ohio and South Carolina.
Roxanne Brann, executive director of the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in
Augusta, says her shelter gets only three or four litters of puppies out of the
roughly 700 to 800 dogs turned over each year. "We have people fighting over
puppies," she said.
The most recent litter was spoken for well before it was born to a pregnant
dog turned in to the shelter. There were 20 people on a waiting list and
another 30 unprocessed applications from people hoping to adopt.
The adoption process is quite rigorous, Brann says. Prospective owners must
go through a screening process. A positive recommendation by a veterinarian is
required and applicants must meet with an adoption counselor.
Brann says her shelter has not imported dogs or puppies from out of state -
but that could change.
"It is not something we had considered doing until recently because we had
not been in a situation where we were low enough in population," she said.
The practice of importing dogs has led to a rift between veterinarians and
humane societies in New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire Department of Agriculture has introduced a bill that would
ban imported dogs from a state program that subsidizes neutering costs for
dogs and cats adopted from shelters. Violators would face a $1,000 fine.
"It is a funny can of worms and I honestly do not know where I sit on it
because so many people who want to get a puppy from a shelter can't find any,"
Steve Taylor, New Hampshire agriculture commissioner, says imported dogs have
bankrupted the state's pet overpopulation control program, which has run out
of money for the year.
In its eight years, the program has led to the neutering of nearly 39,000
dogs and cats at a cost of about $1.7 million. The program is partly funded by
veterinarians who waive 20 percent of their neutering fee for those who qualify
for the program. But they are balking at waiving fees for out-of-state dogs,
says Dr. Clifford McGinnis, New Hampshire's state veterinarian. He says he was
infuriated when he learned that shelters in his state were bringing in dogs
not only from Southern states, but also from Puerto Rico and other countries.
"We did not pass this bill to solve the puppy overpopulation problem for all
these other states," McGinnis said.
Animal welfare advocates are quick to say that while southern Maine sometimes
faces a shortage of adoptable dogs, the problem does not exist in northern
and eastern parts of the state, where there are few animal shelters and more
low-income dog owners who cannot afford the $80 to $160 fee to neuter their pets.
During the fall, when people tend to abandon their pets at shelters because
of a move, animal shelters everywhere can be overwhelmed.
Advocates say the drop in dog populations at animal shelters has been matched
by an explosion in the cat population across the state.
Proposed legislation calls for a voluntary check-off on the Maine income-tax
form to allow taxpayers to contribute to a program that will assist low-income
Mainers in getting their pets spayed or neutered, and they say this is vital
for continuing efforts to make every pet a wanted pet.
The success of spaying and neutering programs also could raise issues of
Zezula says the increase in dog neutering has led to a drop in the numbers of
mixed-breed dogs. She says that could be good and bad for dogs in the long
run. Purebred dogs can be subject to genetic defects; mixed-breed dogs have
fewer of these flaws.
"So, from a dog's perspective, it is probably not such a good idea," she said.
But Brimley, who is British, says she does not expect mixed-breed dogs to go
away soon. Even if everyone neutered their dogs, she says, there will continue
to be the occasional accident. And in Britain, where dog ownership may be
even more highly evolved than in the United States, there are plenty of mutts to
go around, she says.
Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 324-4888 or at: <A HREF="mailto:bquimby at pressherald.com">
bquimby at pressherald.com</A>
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